Fact-Checking Jeremy Clarkson's Stupid Opinions in Episode 3 of The Grand Tour

By James O Malley on at

Three episodes into The Grand Tour, and Jeremy Clarkson has finally gone full Jeremy Clarkson. The first couple of episodes might have featured the odd 'jokes' about gypsies or other nationalities, but it was this week's show that reminded us why we have a hate/hate relationship with Clarkson.

About half way through the show, just before Hammond & May destroy Clarkson's house, our heroes held the regular "Conversation Street" section. Unable to tie to news events, because the show is recorded long in advance, it really was like being stuck listening to the pub bore.

"Obviously you can’t burn coal any more because Al Gore goes nuts and a polar bear falls over," said Clarkson at one point - which is certainly one way of trivialising the profound existential risk of climate change.

Moments later, Clarkson warned: "Bad news, there is a problem right now in this country." Apparently fewer people are learning to drive. The number has fallen from over 16,000 in 2007, to around 4,650 today, according to Hammond. And this set Jeremy off.

Kids leave school these days with no idea who Hitler was, they can’t add up, they just know cars are bad. That’s all they learn: Cars are bad, cars are bad. And then when they do get out of school, after school finishes and they just see traffic jams and signs saying don’t over take cyclists and they just think “What’s the point?”

Unfortunately, Clarkson is an expert at winding me up. So I've spent the day figuring out just how wrong he is.

So, first things first: Yes, the number of driving tests being taken have fallen. But I can't work out where Clarkson got his figures from.

Here's a chart showing the number of driving tests taken -- as well as the pass rate -- using data from the DVSA, the government agency that administers driving tests.

Note that Clarkson's right -- there has indeed been a fall -- from around 1.7 million per year, to 1.5 million.

But why? Is it because of cyclists or political correctness going mad, or whatever it is that Clarkson would like to lay the blame on? No. The DfT puts it down to three main factors:

  1.  The overall pass rate increasing. In other words, people are now more likely to pass their test first time, meaning fewer repeat visitors, and therefore less tests. This is surely great news for the driving cause, as it suggests that people are finding it easier than ever to learn how to drive.
  2. Demographic trends. The birth rate fell in the mid-90s, which means that there are fewer teenagers around today who are learning to drive. The good news for Clarkson and co is that it went up again at the turn of the millennium, so perhaps numbers will pick up again soon.
  3. And finally -- this might have escaped the attention of multi-millionaire TV stars -- but there was a rather severe recession and financial crisis in 2008. This means that people would have had less cash to spend on things like driving lessons and cars, and would have been less likely to have jobs to go to. Young people, who are most likely to want to learn to drive, have been hardest hit too, with studies showing that median incomes have cratered amongst the youngest group of people.

So yes, perhaps people are more environmentally conscious, but the Department for Transport points the finger in other directions.

Oh, and before I forget -- what about Clarkson's other claims? That kids don't know who Hitler was, and can't add up. Let's take a quick look at the data pupil attainment in Maths GCSE. Sadly I can't find data going all the way back to 2007, but 2010 is a good starting point.

Here's the result of perhaps slightly too much time wasted making graphs.

As you can see, the number of pupils has fluctuated fairly significantly, but 78% in 2016 compared to 58% in 2010 are scoring at least an A*-C grade in Maths. Surely, if anything, kids are now much better at adding up.

What about knowing who Hitler is? The story is slightly different if you look at GCSE history.

Here, we actually see a stepped increase of around 17% in 2013 for some reason. As a result, it appears that the average grades actually fell. Perhaps though, given that history isn't a compulsory part of the curriculum, it could be argued that more kids taking an interest in history is also a reflection that more of them actually know about the past... and indeed, more are perhaps likely to know about Hitler, even if they can't get the right grades?

The Oxford Bypass

Unfortunately, Clarkson wasn't done. Putting on his flat cap, and with his Daily Express under his arm, old man Clarkson decided to regale the audience in Whitby with some rather weak banter about... the Oxford ring-road.

"For the past two years they’ve been working on slightly shrinking two roundabouts and putting some traffic lights up. Do you know what the budget was for that roundabout? £9m!" Clarkson explained. Then the presenters decided -- despite having no frame of reference as to how much these things cost -- that this was a ridiculous sum of money.

It appears that Clarkson was referring to a the Cutteslow and Wolvercote roundabout scheme, that saw significantly more amounts of work than Clarkson implied in the episode.

According to Oxfordshire County Council, improvements included the following:

  • New traffic lights on both roundabouts, which will be monitored through our UTMC (Urban Traffic Management Control) system
  • Widening of the main approaches at A40 and A44 approaches to both roundabouts
  • New pedestrian and cycle crossing facilities
  • New off-carriageway cycle facilities
  • New and reduced speed limits on the A40 and A44 approaches to both roundabouts
  • Resurfacing, street lighting and drainage

Okay, so Clarkson probably won't like the cycling improvements, but everything else should help traffic flow more easily -- and the use of smart traffic management means that the council should be able to squeeze more capacity of existing roads by phasing the lights dynamically to manage traffic flows.

So is £9m fair? I've no idea, but considering the roads see 100,000 cars pass through every single day, it is clear that these roundabouts are significant pieces of infrastructure, and given the cost of design, labour, construction and materials, it is easy to imagine how they'll cost significantly more than the £10,000 figure that Hammond pulled out of his arse.

So Jeremy Clarkson, if you're reading: I don't mind weak banter, as long as it's accurate.

And thus ends perhaps the most tediously pedantic post you've ever read.

More GizUK Grand Tour Coverage: